Integration Group (Jan 2015): The Big(ger) Picture

The work of the integration group at first seemed fairly straightforward, though not simplistic. We proposed to identify the challenges of and best practices for integrating badges into a learning context, including how badges can be implemented to effectively support learning and/or recognize achievements, how to introduce badges to and implement with youth in ways that they find compelling, what training or support might be necessary to support educators in using badges effectively, and how to implement the necessary and appropriate technologies seamlessly, and do all of this without disrupting the learning that is the essential part of a program.  Ok, so not simple or straightforward, and also not complete.

The benefit, and challenge, of having such a diverse group of organizations participating in CSTEMBE, is that we offer programs not only in different disciplines, but also at different scales and formats.  We have on-the-ground organizations really embedded in the community like Agape Werks, museums that offer multiple on and off-site program opportunities like the Adler Planetarium or Chicago Botanic Garden, and umbrella organizations like After School Matters that coordinate thousands of programs in collaboration with dozens if not hundreds of partner organizations.

So, as we discussed how we might tackle the above challenges – would it be looking at case studies from past pilot tests, program observations, discussions with instructors – we realized that we needed to put those learning contexts in context, meaning that programs don’t run themselves or happen in a vacuum so we can’t look at how badging is implemented that way.

At the most direct level, instructors are responsible for implementing badges and making the badging actually happen in a learning context – explaining to participants what they are and how they work, managing badging process so it aligns with the flow of participant work, troubleshooting technology on the fly (because we all know it doesn’t work ALL the time), assessing work and awarding the badges earned.  We began to explore this level of badge integration earlier on using the case study approach. We found that comfort with technology, pre-program training on badging and platforms, and perceived connections (or lack thereof) between the content covered in the program and technology broadly impacted if and how instructors used (or didn’t use) badges.

We’re continuing to build this body of knowledge as CSTEMBE moves forward, but we’re also expanding our understanding of “integration” beyond the instructional context to other scales of implementation.

Especially in informal education, often there are staff who oversee one or more programs, they design curricula, coordinate staffing, and recruit students among other things, but don’t necessarily do the teaching.  These people make broader decisions that impact program level integration, so we need to know not only how instructors are making in-the-moment decisions about badges, but also explore the rationale and decision making processes at a programmatic level – Why were organizations badging some programs but not others, what was the programmatic rational for integrating badging and how it fits in with their underlying educational philosophy.  Not to mention how these and other concerns impacted the choice of badging platform, what specific badges would be offered, and how to train instructors in their implementation. Moving forward we will be interviewing program managers as well as documenting the integration process at the programmatic level to get a better sense of how different organizations are approaching badge integration –designing curriculum for badging (backwards design), instructor training, and technology.

At the umbrella level this becomes even more complicated – and even more important.  After School Matters for example, is badging programs run by 5 different community partners that focus on different STEM content areas, but wanted to pilot test badges across all of them in a consistent and organized way.  Because badging had to be consistent across instructors, badging was integrated into their pre-program curriculum design training session and into the tools ASM uses to support that process. This type of cross-program integration provides an incubator and test site for the larger cross-institutional integration that is the ultimate goal of CSTEMBE.  We are looking forward to seeing how this approach worked, the challenges and successes, and reporting back in the not so distant future.  If you want to learn more about the ASM instructor workshop, check out Jameela Jafri’s (Program Design Manager @ ASM) January post blog.  And stay tuned here for updated on each level of integration as we launch pilot tests and share results.

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